I acknowledge the presence of the Speaker Hon. Simon Pentanu, Member for North Bougainville Hon. William Nakin, members of cabinet and the members of the Bougainville House of Representatives.
More importantly I acknowledge the presence of those of you who are here with us on this morning on Thursday, the 16th of September 2021 to commemorate Papua New Guinea’s 46th Independence Day Celebrations.
Our theme for celebrating this year’s Independence Anniversary is Celebrating 46 years of PNG’s Independence and the Spirit of the Bougainville Peace Agreement.
This theme reminds us of Papua New Guinea’s endurance as an independent democratic nation diversified by a thousand tribes and cultures. It also gives historical context to Bougainville’s own peaceful aspirations for independence that begun more than 50 years ago when our political forefathers decided that Bougainville should also be an independent nation separate from the rest of PNG.
Unlike many nations today, Papua New Guinea did not resort to conflict to attain its independence. It was granted its independence from its Australian colonial masters on the condition that it had an economic base, a growing nationalized civil service and it would adopt a democratic form of government.
By achieving these the Australian flag was hoisted down on Independence Hill on September 16th 1975 and the PNG flag was flown for the very first time.
The freedoms and liberty enjoyed by Papua New Guineans today is guaranteed by a constitution that has stood firm for nearly half a century.
Throughout the last 46 years the people of this country have formally and deliberately elected a government for themselves. They have enjoyed the freedom of movement, they have the freedom to speak as they please and they have enjoyed the freedom to demand active participation in development and governance.
However, the last 46 years have not made PNG immune to issues of nepotism, good governance and accountability. While the country’s democratic ideals were practical in the early years of PNG’s development, change and progress has also brought about challenges that impede equitable distribution of services to the people.
Despite these challenges the Take Back PNG initiative by the Prime Minister Hon. James Marape is a positive step in modernizing PNG and ensuring the government serves the best interest of Papua New Guinea.
For Bougainville we sacrificed our independence aspirations in 1975 to remain a part of the newly created independent state of Papua New Guinea. We supported the country through our contributions to the public service and financially supported PNG’s independence through the Panguna Mine. Our support remained consistent until the 1980’s when the government of PNG and Bougainville Copper Limited refused to address our issues on landowner rights and equitable distribution of services on Bougainville.
The Bougainville Crisis (1989 – 2001) was a direct result of these issues that were ignored past PNG governments and its continued neglect reignited Bougainville’s rally for independence. However, despite the Crisis being the darkest period of PNG history as an independent nation, Bougainville stood united and signed the Bougainville Peace Agreement with the Government of PNG.
The BPA formally ended the Bougainville Crisis and made way for peace between Bougainville and PNG. It also provided a pathway for Bougainville’s political future through self-determination. This year also commemorates the 20th Anniversary of the Bougainville Peace Agreement.
We have maintained our commitment to the Bougainville Peace Agreement by achieving its three pillars on; Autonomy, Weapons Disposal and the Referendum. The successful outcome of the Referendum through the 97.7 percent of our people ‘s demand for political independence is a clear indication of our people’s felt needs and aspirations.
I must thank the Prime Minister Hon. James Marape and the National Government for their continued commitment on the implementation of the BPA, we have come this far in the spirit of friendship and equal partnership.
Despite the challenges and differences in opinion significant progress in the Joint Supervisory Body Meetings and the Joint Consultations. I am a firm believer in maintaining consistency in processes governed by the existing legal framework on Bougainville’s independence. We must do so with trust and integrity.
I would like to take this time to pay tribute to PNG’s Founding Father, The Late Great Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare who passed away early this year. His visionary leadership brought a highly diversified nation together as one people. He has had a close relationship with Bougainville from the formative years of Papua New Guinea until our most recent history. His association with Bougainville goes back to the days when PNG and Bougainville sought independence from Australia. It was through this association that he begun a lifelong friendship with the people as well as our early leaders such as Sir Paul Lapun, Sir Donatus Mola, Raphael Bele and Grand Chief Dr. John Momis.
In the face of adversity, we have shown courage by defending our land and our people against an oppressive regime and by the same spirit we have proved our strength to accept peace. Our journey is not yet over, the next chapter in our history requires our people to unite and to continue to work hard to support our government.
History has taught us that peace by peaceful means has been the only answer to Bougainville’s progress. Hence we must embrace the values and principles that promote peace not only for our time but a peace for all time to come on Bougainville. I wish you all Happy Independence Day.
God Bless Papua New Guinea and Bougainville.
Hon. Ishmael Toroama MHR
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